We know what everyone is going to say before they say it. I make no claim to illumine so much as attempt to further the human pursuit of understanding. “Understanding” is one of the ways we try to make “order” in a world that refuses to give what what we believe we want.
In a world of powers our ability to use power defines human success and failure. Greatness as the question of value—is it worth it? That will have to wait for now. We must come to terms with the instruments of power and that means violence must come first.
We want security, pleasure, and above all meaning because we suspect in a deeper sense that the world could be meaningless when we know there is no way to sustain order.
Order means what we think it means: our needs, desires, and interests are addressed. And since there is no way to maintain all we want we often resort to supernatural claims like God knows or the more nondescript spiritual “mystery” and use whatever we can to console, bypass, or just hold on for one more minute.
Modernity complicates the problem because we can no longer force everyone to agree that our God is the one true God: the ultimate is no longer as coercive or as compelling a source of stability as it once was. We are plural now but no less factionalized about who _should_ be in charge of what we know cannot be managed by mere human efforts.
Religion always asks for the impossible and demands it. Enter the Right. “Spirituality’ admits a measure of impossibility and claims its understanding leaves us to ponder further as we sort it out or “wake up” to a “deeper truth.” Enter the Left. Both predicate solutions to the irresolvable, which is why both invoke in some way the need for “thoughts and prayers.”
We want what life will not offer but as humans will insist upon. Ambiguity and uncertainty is the greater threat to order that both sides abhor for fear that it is the deeper truth. It may be the unholy truth that we having only as much certainty as being human allows. However uncomfortable that makes us feel we must learn to be uncomfortable if we are to come to human terms.
Truth that depends on the provisional and the incomplete and yet nonetheless capable of taking us to the moon and beyond is not what we _really_ want. Giving up the delusion of what is impossible is felt to be defeatist (the Left) or heretical (the Right), depending on how you deal with the facts of human limitation.
The Left will now tepidly suggest reasonable gun measures with some qualification about “supporting” the 2nd Amendment. The Right will, of course, talk about threats to the 2nd Amendment, invoke the thoughts and prayers distraction, and claim anyone deviating from the talking points is unseemly. We can’t talk about taking human actions when God is involved and the dead are still being actively mourned. It’s all too familiar and insidious. The irony that not talking about the sources and instruments of violence is political is ignored on the Right. God is a reason for whatever they want.
On these same matters I would suggest too that a modern trope works like emblem for Left and Right both. This appears as the “spiritual” vs. “religious” claim for meaning-making. The Left wants to be “spiritual” about the issues, appealing to feelings of commonality and then turn as quickly as possible to some practical, humanist solution. What are we going “to do” comes post haste. The Right finds this unseemly at best but in fact heretical.
So we find the Fox meme that Democrats are “already” politicizing another mass shooting and insure that their do-nothing strategy gains its own momentum again. Their aim is to make sure they control the narrative such that the narrative cannot change: it is what “conservatives” want, they want to impress upon us that “order” comes from appeals to the orderly and thus to the Order Maker. “Religion” depends on claiming moral superiority, be that “freedom,” “truth,” or “patriotism.” It’s all about legitimizing the claim to power, that is, maintaining authority.
Thus, we humans are incapable of knowing the right thing and our actions need to defer to the Almighty. The mechanisms of human manipulation and control are never far from their agenda and when you decide God must first and last decide you have weaponized the ultimate in the service of the agenda. The agenda here is to maintain power, use the threat of power, and so invoke authority however possible to create the outcomes of power.
What that power seeks is control and when it spirals into anarchy it will use the claims of authority: the law, the heroic law enforcers, God, freedom conferred by God (in this case particularly the 2nd Amendment), and other claims to God-given, God-sanctioned power. That power is of course used to serve some social and political end because religion is not about individualizing feelings—that is the “spiritual”—it is always about putting them in structures of power and order such that people will do the bidding of the powerful.
The masks of religion have been temporarily torn off or perhaps not so temporarily. But the masks are real. Religion understands structural power and its manipulations and so the Right knows that control can be maintained with appeals to the supernatural and obedience.
When obedience fails then violence can be used to maintain order but violence as a threat and a tool is never far from the objectives of power. Those who disobey will be called “mentally ill” and the problem reduced to “derangement.” When violence “breaks out” it disrupts the smooth claims of power: to enrich itself and maintain control.
The violence endemic to the structure must not be investigated because their God with wrath for the disobedient is one of “mercy” for the compliant. The threat of violence, like actual violence, is foundational to the structure of power itself, ultimate power is ascribed to God who is little more than those who wield it. Thus, the Republican politicians have preferred the threat of violence and, of course, don’t fancy what happens when their sycophants assume the role of God which they assign to themselves.
At this point their religion is also nationalist, racist, and misogynist, and the goal is to keep power in the hands of white men—where it has “always” been. This is not only historically true but is part of the deeper purpose of religion itself: to _maintain_ order in a world that promises nothing because God’s “mystery” includes the fact that all manner of unwanted things happens even to the God-fearing “compliant.” Doing God’s work means rooting out the cause and the sources of “evil “who are none other than those who threaten their white power.
The “real” cause of evil, which is disorder not attributable to their “just” God, are those those who would take their power and rearrange the power to their disadvantage. Violence is the common recourse to those who prefer to make money from such threats to power—think McConnell, Trump, the NRA, the grifters, et.al.—and those who imagine themselves the stewards and keepers of order, that is particularly young white men with guns fueled by the threat of the other as the emblem of change, undermining their power, and so order itself.
Interestingly America as an ideal is built on values that treasure evolution and progress—we claim to pursue a “more perfect union.”
If we can suspend for just one moment the venal hypocrisy that has always been the nation’s shadow and its real sins then we can claim that our desire for order can take up imperfect means too. This is itself a threat to In God We Trust order because it places the burden of truth in reason and humanism.
We will have to allow truth to be on-going, flush with a greater awareness of what threatens us, and a recognition that our human desires must contend with being incomplete. But that will not happen if we fail to understand that power—white male power–will not relinquish its claims to absolute and ultimate control without violence as a threat.
Our ideals of plurality depend not on thoughts and prayers but on the recognition that power must serve conflicting values that may not recognize or reconcile with each other. The stakes are sustainable difference as a model of plurality in a society that makes access to violence as simple as ordering on the internet or shopping at Walmart.